5 Things Italy Coach Cesare Prandelli Should Experiment with vs. Spain
Cesare Prandelli is without some key players for Italy's friendly with Spain in Madrid and, having called up several fresh faces, looks likely to experiment.
Both Mario Balotelli and Daniele De Rossi are out, the former through injury and the latter because he was seen punching Inter's Mauro Icardi during their recent game with Roma. Italy are also missing the injured forward Giuseppe Rossi, who had been enjoying a blistering season for Fiorentina.
Italy lost out to penalties the last time these two sides met. The Azzurri will want to up their game this time in order to beat their old rivals and set the tone for the summer and the 2014 World Cup.
Try Again with a Three-Man Defence
The Spanish have one of the best midfields in the world, and with Daniele De Rossi missing out on a call-up for falling foul of Prandelli's code of ethics, Italy's centre isn't as strong as it could be.
That's all the more reason to mix things up tactically and return to the 3-5-2 that Spain found so difficult to break down during last summer's Confederations Cup.
There's a core of Juventus players in the Italy defence, all of whom are comfortable playing three at the back. And while Napoli's Christian Maggio has been playing as a full-back under Rafa Benitez, he's much more effective as wing-back.
Attacking quickly on the counter down the flanks can limit the effectiveness of Spain's main strengths and their style. And the extra central defender will come in handy against Vincent Del Bosque's free-scoring forwards.
Mattia Destro Up Front
Roma's Mattia Destro is enjoying life in Serie A at the moment, after returning from injury and earning a place back on Rudi Garcia's squad.
The young Italian is one of the league's brightest prospects and should now be taken seriously as a key player in Prandelli's set up.
Forwards like Alberto Gilardino and Dani Osvaldo can be useful, the former in particular, but neither are going to develop into the exceptional striker that Italy needs.
Destro might, and in the absence of Mario Balotelli, he deserves a shot to prove himself.
Since coming back in December, he's bagged six goals from just seven starts for his club—now it's time to see what he can do for his country.
Another young striker worth a look is Torino's Ciro Immobile. The 24-year-old is among Serie A's top scorers with 13 goals so far.
Press Spain's Midfield
When these two sides met in Brazil in 2013, 120 minutes of football couldn't separate them. Italy, in fact, dominated that game for long periods and could conceivably have won the tie had Mario Balotelli been fit and leading the line.
The reason that Italy were able to match Spain that day was that they didn't allow Del Bosque's men the space that they're used to.
The usual approach against a side like Spain is to sit back, soak up the pressure and hope for the best. Prandelli went against that logic, pressing the midfield and denying the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta the room or the time that they needed to really shine.
By choking the centre, Italy were also able to exploit the flanks that day, getting the ball forward quickly with their wide players and bypassing the heart of the Spanish squad.
Napoli's Lorenzo Insigne is perhaps Italy's best young creative talent, and the sooner he becomes a regular with the national team, the better.
The 22-year-old has four caps to his name so far and can offer plenty against Spain. His skill on the ball, eye for a pass and ability to create chances where other players wouldn't see them all make Insigne an asset to Prandelli.
Having a player of his quality in a roaming role behind Destro is bound to cause Spain problems.
He's shown the kind of damage he can do when started out wide but allowed to cut into the centre. He not only links the midfield and the striker well, but also creates spaces and cuts in regularly to try on his own.
There's no doubt that Gigi Buffon will be Italy's No. 1 should he be fit, but friendly games like these are a great way to give the gloves to his potential replacement, Mattia Perin.
The Genoa keeper is just 21, but he's already considered to be one of the league's better keepers and his potential to develop into a great has plenty of fans excited.
Salvatore Sirigu is a fine stopper and deserves recognition for his work at Paris Saint-Germain, but it's unlikely he'll ever become a guaranteed starter for the Azzurri. Perin, on the other hand, has all the qualities that could one day see him replace Buffon between the posts for Italy.
For that to happen, he needs to get used to that unique pressure, and there can be no hotter baptism by fire than against the reigning European and world champions.